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tv   CBS Evening News With Katie Couric  CBS  March 16, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT

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in fukushima got so high today they were forced to leave temporarily, but now they're back on the job. japan has raised the maximum radiation dose allowed for nuclear workers so they can deal with the crisis, but the head of the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission told congress today the doses those workers could be exposed to are potentially lethal in a short period of time. it's nearly six days now since the earthquake and tsunami killed at least 4300 people and damaged the nuclear reactors. today, u.s. officials told americans within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate the area or stay indoors. that is two and a half times as wide as the danger zone established by the japanese. harry smith begins tonight's coverage of the disaster in japan. >> reporter: in a sign of how grave japan's crisis has become, the emperor, akihito, made an unprecedented television address, acknowledging that he is deeply worried, urging his subjects not to give up.
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it did little to calm a country increasingly distrustful, given the wave of conflicting reports and mixed messages. >> ( translated ): there is both positive and negative news. i don't know which i should believe. >> reporter: and today on capitol hill, u.s. energy secretary and nuclear expert steven chu said he, too, is baffled. >> and there are conflicting reports, and so, we don't really know in detail what's happening. >> reporter: at the fukushima plant, there are two key areas of concern, pumping enough water into the reactors to keep the nuclear fuel rods cool to avoid a potential meltdown, and limiting damage to the all-important containment vessels surrounding the reactor cores. there is already a breach in reactor 2, and there are fears of another breach in reactor 3. >> my confidence is eroded somewhat because of this continual, almost daily death
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degradation in the infrastructure they have there. >> reporter: and today, new images of the damage in reactor 4, the result of yesterday's fire. >> this side of the photograph, in particular, looks just like chernobyl. you had a fire and a release of radiation particles in the atmosphere, the highest levels we've seen so far. >> reporter: and now this startling disclosure. >> we would recommend an evacuation to a much larger radius. >> reporter: the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission said it believed the cooling pool in reactor 4 was completely dry, leaving the nuclear material to get hotter and hotter. officials hope a new power line will soon restore the facility's crucial water pumps, but for now, the last line of defense is a rotating group of workers inside, known as the faceless 50, who are risking their lives to prevent a catastrophe. wednesday, even they were forced out of the facility for about an hour because of high radiation levels. and, katie, we found out just
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this morning that the united states has offered the use of a high-tech drone to fly over this troubled site to take detailed pictures of what's going on inside. this is actually a spy drone which means it's equippe equipph infrared equipment which can look down and look inside and find out exactly where the hoddest spots are. >> couric: we know so far wind has been blowing in a direction pushing the radiation particles from the reactor out to sea. could that weather pattern be changing in any way? >> reporter: yeah, we've been really, really lucky. the predominant wind have been wist to east, blowing whatever atomic particles out to to sea. there are some weather models right now that are saying that could shift in the next couple of days with a predominant north to south wind, and if that happens, and if there's a significant release of radioactive material, it would head right toward tokyo.
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>> couric: harry smith in tokyo, thank you, harry. james acton is an nuclear safety expert with the carnegie endowment. james what, is the biggest caws for concern at this point? >> katie right now the biggest cause of concern is the highly radioactive used nuclear fuel because that material is sitting outside of the heavily reinforced containment building. and all that's standing between it and the outside world is a big pool of water, and a weak outer containment shell. >> couric: the head of the nuclear regulatory commission said today that it believes that around the reactor site, there are high leveles of radiation, potentially lethal doses that may prevent emergency workers from getting near the reactors. what is your reaction to that? >> it is clearly deeply concerning. but we've seen in the limited history of nuclear disasters some extraordinary acts of heroism, and i'm thinking here
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in particular of the soviet workers during the chernobyl accident who after that massive explosion that brew a hole in the roof, went up on the roof and literally with shovels, put used nuclear fuel back down into the reactor core. and i have no doubt whatsoever that if the need calls-- and we very much hope it doesn't-- but if the need calls for those japanese workers they're going to show every bit the same level of bravery. >> couric: if the situation doesn't improve, james, what is the worst-case scenario here? >> you know, we now have nine different areas of concern. we have six spent fuel pools, and we have three reactor cores. and all of those have the potential to lead to significant releases of radiation into the environment. i think the worst case here, which is very serious, is long-term, would be an increase in the rate of cancer as a result of radiation. but i think, again, it's worth emphasizing-- we're unlikely to see a catastrophic release of
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radiation on the scale of chernobyl, and the number of deathdeaths that result from ths reactor incident is likely to be well below those killed in the tsunami. >> couric: as harry smith mentioned in his report, the japanese people are losing faith in what their government is telling them about this crise and they don't trust the power company very much, either. today, the governor of fukushima said theanger and anxiety have reached a buying point. more on that now from bill whitaker. >> reporter: the fallout from japan's worst nuclear accident is growing panic and suspicion the government and tepco, the tokyo electric power company are, not telling the whole truth. they established a 20-mile danger zone, but fear in japan has spread much father. "i think the government is trying to hide something," she says. "the prime minister and tepco say we are fine, but things keep happening that say we weren't fine." tokyo airports are crowded with
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the growing number of people taking flight. jim stevens is going home to iowa. >> we haven't-- aren't aware of any communications from the japanese government. >> reporter: tepco, established in 1951, just six years after the nuclear blast that ended world war ii, is the fourth largest electric company in the world. it operates 17 nuclear reactors and often finds itself in hot water. in 2002, top executives resigned in disgrace when tepco was found to have falsified reports and concealed accidents at nuclear plants 200 times over 25 years. industry watchdogs say it's wise to be skeptical. "tepco did not tell the truth in the past and they're not telling the truth now," he says. even prime minister kan seems to doubt he's getting the whole story. publicly tuesday, he urged saturdays to stay calm. privately, he exploded, "what the hell is going on?" at tepco executives who wait an
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hour to tell him about the first explosion. nuclear experts say the crisis is dangerous, unreliable information makes it worse. >> the japanese public is uncertain about the accuracy of the information, and that is inhibiting an effective crisis response. >> reporter: more unnerving-- events at fukushima are unfolding so fast, tepco and the government may not know what's happening. today people were alarmed when the government said radiation at the plant was so high all workers were being evacuated. when levels dropped and workers returned no one offered an explanation. "even we don't have the latest information. it's not because tepco is hiding it. they don't have it," he says. the people of japan want answers in this crisis. the lack of information is leaving them in the dark. bill whitaker, cbs news, tokyo. >> couric: from anger to sheer terror-- that emotion gripped much of japannals the earthquake and tsunami hit last friday.
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tonight, new video from that day shows what happened when a sea wall collapsed in the city of miyako. the surge of water rushes in, sweeping away cars and debris along what used to be a major road. people watched from rooftops as the water rises. you can see that man there. and all the buildings behind h him. 7 but soon enough, not even the rooftops are safe, and in the span of two minutes, everything is washed away. it will be some time before we know the full cost of the disaster and lives and property. more than 8,000 people are still missing, and more than 416,000 have either lost their homes or been forced to evacuate them. ben tracy reports on the search for victims and the growing humanitarian crisis. >> reporter: for more than 10 hours each day, they search the never-ending piles of wreckage
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near ofunato, japan. these are firefighters, 150 of them from los angeles and fairfax, virginia, virginia. they are looking for survivors, but in two days they have found just six people, all of them dead. the u.s. response to japan's disaster is growing. 17,000 military personnel, 14 ships, 113 helicopters, and the aircraft carrier "ronald reagan" are now in or on their way to the country. the american red cross has already sent $10 million. but the human need is growing faster. this woman and her two children are living on a blanket in an evacuation center hallway. what is this like to go through this with your kids? she says she worries about their hygiene. and the situation here is getting worse by the day. these are the bathrooms and there is no running water so people are basically flushing toilets using these buck theets of water. the united nations says 102 countries have offered japan help. it has accepted it from only 15. >> i think the japanese see
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themselves as self-reliant and very effective at dealing with disaster, so they're really trying to do as much as they can on their own and then we'll see what kind of reaching out they'll do. >> reporter: japan has not officially even asked for donations, but americans have already pledged more than $47 million. yet by comparison, after haiti's earthquake, americans gave $150 million in just the first four days. but money is not the main problem right now. getting supplies through this wreckage is. radiation leaking from this nuclear power plant has kept search-and-rescue teams out some of the hardest hit areas. the tsunami pushed this house right into this river and there are neighborhoods like this up and down the coast that basically look like war zones. the fear, of course, is a lot of people will simply abandon their homes and the cleanup could take years. in this country, although proud and prosperous, made need all the help it can get. ben tracy, cbs news, tokyo. >> couric: out of the ruins of the earthquake and tsunami comes
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a touching example of loyalty. new video shows a dog surviving among the wreckage south of sendai. first the dog appears scared and alone but a closer look shows it's standing vigil next to another job that is injured or sick, inseparable even in a disaster. we're happy to report both animals have now been rescued. coming up next here on the cbs evening news, nearly two done nuclear reactors in this country are very similar to japan's damaged reactor so are we at risk? and later, qaddafi's army on the move and on the verge of taking back all of libya.
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>> couric: secretary of state hillary clinton echoed the thoughts of many americans today-- she said what's happening in japan raises questions about the safety of nuclear plant here in the u.s. as john black stone reports, nine major american industries within 50 miles of a reactor. >> reporter: the nuclear emergency in japan is of particular significance to americans living close to older nuclear reactors of exactly the same design as the crippled japanese plant. 23 of the boiling water reactors marc-1, built by general
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electric, mostly in the 1970s, are still operating at 16 plant spread across much of the country. it's a design that has worried dale bridenbaugh for 35 years since he worked as a safety manager for g.e. >> my job was to try and figure out how to make these plant run better. >> reporter: he was disturbed by the possible consequences if a plant ever lost power. >> i was most concerned about the fact that we discovered we didn't really know what would happen. >> reporter: when g.e. and the utilities operating the reactors ignored his concerns, bridenbaugh and two colleagues quit in 1796. >> the containment system response would be a failure, similar to what we're seeing now at fukushima. >> reporter: the mark-1 containment system is somewhat more exact than others but still has multiple layers of metal and reinforced concrete surrounding the fuel rods. but the mark-1 also has a unique feature it's spent fuel resident, which are still
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radioactive, are stored for cooling in water-filled pools above the containment structure under a much lighter roof. at fukushima, those spent resident have caused big problems. >> there was some hydrogen, i guess, generated in the spent fuel pond that ignited and blew the roof off. >> reporter: in a statement today, g.e. says... bridenbaugh acknowledges the improvements over the years, but says the same danger remains for the mark-1 reactors still operating here. >> anything that would wipe out the backup power system to those plant could result in the same thing that's happening at fukushima. >> reporter: while the risk is there, so is the need for energy, with 20% of our electricity coming from nuclear plants, even the older ones are still considered essential. john blackstone, cbs news, san francisco. >> couric: and when we come back, libya's army sends a
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warning to the rebels.
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>> couric: popular uprisings have brought down governments in egypt and tunisia, but the momentum in the middle east has swung the other way. government forces in bahrain attacked protesters today with tanks and helicopters. and as mark phillips reports, libya's army is preparing a final push, warning civilians to get out of parts of benghazi held by rebels.
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>> reporter: the eastern front in libya's fighting is moving further east. muammar qaddafi's army has pushed the rebel force back to the doorstep of its last remaining stronghold, benghazi. government troops have all but taken the crossroads town of ajdabiyah. and that would open the way to benghazi, or would allow those troops to encircle it by going straight for dubuque, which is what saif qaddafi is predicting. muammar qaddafi has written an instruction manual and had a stay in power. number one, stamp out dissent immediately. number two, shut downtown internet so the opposition can't communicate, and most importantly, make sure any army units that are prepared to shoot are on your side. some of those libyan lessons are being applied in bahrain, where security forces used overwhelming numbers to break up the protesters' camp there.
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volleys of choking gas were fired. and more. the arab spring of egypt in tunisia has hit barren ground in bahrain and in libya. mark phillips, cbs news, tripoli. >> couric: next door to libya, secretary of state hillary clinton urged egypt's military leaderleadersleaders to keep tho establish democracy there. she also made an unannounced visit to tahrir square, the epicenter of the antigovernment protest that forces president hosni mubarak to step down last month. meanwhile, a diplomatic standoff between the u.s. and pakistan ended today with the payment of what some call blood money. in january, raymond davis, a c.i.a. contractor in pakistan, killed two men he says were robbing him. the u.s. insisted he had diplomatic immunity but davis was charged with murder just the same. today, pakistan released him when the victims' families send more than $2 million. the u.s. is expected to foot the
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>> couric: finally tonight, among the missing in japan is a young american teacher. she's there as part of an exchange program. nancy cordes reports her mother and father and her brother and sister are doing everything they can to locate her.
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>> and walk the route that she might have taken. >> reporter: in a suburb of richmond, virginia, the anderson family kitchen has been converted into a command center. >> it was a mountain bike, white, with black basket mount mounted on the back of it. >> reporter: they sift through message boards, send tweets, searching for any sign of 24-year-old taylor. >> the state department just said this is their number one priority right now. >> reporter: is finding her nasa. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: taylor teaches english a seaside city about 50 miles northwest of the quake's epicenter in the heart of the tsunami zone. parts of the city are okay. others are decimated. and all of her friends have now been accounted for? >> yes. >> yes. >> as far as we know. >> reporter: when her parents appeared on "the early show" yesterday they had just been told she was found. >> i couldn't believe it. i was so relieved. >> reporter: but 12 hours later they learned it was a false lead from her teaching program and a new story emerged. >> they said that she had left
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after the earthquake, before the tsunami. this is the map we came up with. that's the elementary school. >> reporter: and how is this route, as best you can tell? is it heavily damaged? >> no. >> reporter: but with bridges destroyed and cell service spotty, they know the search for taylor could be a slow one. but your gut tells you right now she's in a shelter somewhere and safe? >> uh-huh. >> yeah. we've just got to find her. >> reporter: nancy cordes, cbs news, virginia. >> couric: and that's the cbs evening news. for the very latest on the disaster in japan and how you can help, you can go to cbsnews i'm katie couric. thanks for watching. i'm see you tomorrow. good night.
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